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December 2008

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The Great Escape

A bride—and her mother—realize that eloping is sometimes the best way of coping with a wedding


When I was in my early thirties, my mother had me pick out china and silver patterns. I wasn’t engaged. I don’t think I even had a boyfriend at the time. I was an executive at a New York City publisher, and my mother believed that even though I wasn’t married, I shouldn’t be left out of having those “things” that come along with having a new husband. So I picked out some Spode, Tiffany, and Waterford, and my mother gave me one setting on my birthday and at Christmas every year. By the time I turned 40 and had moved to Charleston, I had plenty of china and silver to unpack. I had plenty of former boyfriends, too, including one who had introduced me to the Lowcountry. He didn’t last, but I’ll always be grateful to him for first bringing me here. And then, after I settled here for good, I met someone new. No one was more surprised than I was when I got engaged for the first time at the age of 48—well, maybe my mother was. But apparently storybook romances really happen! My girlfriends and my sisters—all long married—jumped into action. Bridal showers, engagement parties, event venues, and gift registries: it all made me dizzy. It was like a starter’s gun had gone off, and I was spinning in the wake of the other racers. Lists, photos, announcements, and color themes: every moment brought some new must-do. My fiancé spoke up. “Remember,” he said, “this wedding should be what you want.” Well, that may be partly true, but a bride-to-be my age knows the whole truth. Part of what she wants is to make her mother happy, because a daughter’s wedding is always a mother’s crowning glory—that high moment before the son-in-law loses his job and the grandkids need daycare. So I grabbed the phone and crossed my fingers. I knew I had a few advantages. First, she lives in Boston, which seems like a thousand miles away. She had already married off four daughters, in weddings of all sizes and shapes. Years had passed since those events, but I didn’t think she was missing them, nor was she yearning for a fifth round. So I called to ask Mom’s permission to run away and elope. That sounds oxymoronic, but think about it: the only person who stands to have her feelings hurt in such a scenario is the mother who’s “robbed” of a daughter’s wedding. I hoped my mother’s rich four-wedding portfolio would have braced her for the idea. “OK!” she said emphatically when I casually mentioned my fiancé and I were thinking of driving up to the North Carolina mountains and finding a justice of the peace. Another daughter might have been hurt at how readily she dropped the alternative, but I was relieved. Thank goodness for all my sisters, who had already provided her with grand weddings. Now my nuptials could be what I really wanted. “But people want to give you gifts!” protested one disappointed sister. “I don’t need gifts!” I replied, pointing out that Mother had already generously gifted me over the years with china and silver. In the end, my groom and I drove a Jeep into the mountains to quietly get hitched. My sister sent us off with a car packed with something borrowed and something blue—her Tiffany pearl necklace and blue jeans. My mother had mailed me the family sixpence for my shoe (no rare feat, as she had moved many times since her first daughter’s wedding). And me? I wore a cream-colored blazer and blouse with the pearls and jeans. After our vows, we painted the car “Just Married” and drove to a remote log cabin well out of cell phone range for our honeymoon. My new husband and I watched the autumn leaves turn red from the porch. We had wood fires, romance, nature, and privacy. The whole weekend was a ceremony just between us. And I have to say it was unique and treasured because no one else was there—exactly what I wanted. Thanks to the support of my mother and my sisters and their gifts of letting go, I had the wedding of my dreams.




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